Pew on teen social media practices (with interesting bits on class)

While I was off struggling with Leopard and pants, Pew put out another great report: Teens and Social Media. This report fleshes out what I noticed earlier – teens are much more protective of the content they post online than adults are. Yet, this report is sooo much more than that. Here are some of the new findings to whet your appetite:

  • Digital images – stills and videos – have a big role in teen life. Posting them often starts a virtual conversation. Most teens receive some feedback on the content they post online.
  • Email continues to lose its luster among teens as texting, instant messaging, and social networking sites facilitate more frequent contact with friends.
  • More older girls than boys create and contribute to websites.
  • Girls have fueled the growth of the teen blogosphere.
  • Teens from lower-income and single-parent households are more likely to blog.
  • Teens who are most active online, including bloggers, are also highly active offline.
  • Most teens restrict access to their posted photos – at least some of the time. Girls are more restrictive photo posters.
  • Content creators are not devoting their lives exclusively to virtual participation. They are just as likely as other teens to engage in most offline activities and more likely to have jobs.
  • African American teens are more likely to look for college information online.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to look up health, dieting, or fitness information on the Web.
  • The number of teens who report instant message use has dropped since 2004.
  • Visiting a chatroom has declined significantly in popularity since 2000.
  • Fewer teens are buying products online.
  • Wealthy teens are more likely to engage in multimedia Web activities.

Note: The bits on social network sites in the report are using data collected in late 2005/early 2006. Much of those findings were reported in an earlier Pew Report. I strongly believe that SNS use is up since then and that 55% is extremely low.

The whole report is extremely interesting (and I strongly encourage you to read it), but I want to take a moment to talk about the two statements that I bolded in the list above. What Pew’s data shows is that online participation correlates with offline participation. They are not able to show causality (and they do not try to claim that they can), but such a correlation still contradicts the ever-present myth that online activities cause a decline in offline activities. Of course, don’t misread this correlation in the opposite direction either. In other words, you cannot say that if you get a group of teens involved online, they will also get involved offline. Meshing these findings with my own qualitative observations, I have a sneaking suspicion that what Pew’s data is pointing to is that the hyper-motivated and/or overly scheduled teens from middle/upper class communities are extremely engaged offline and use online technologies to socialize with their friends in the interstitial times and that this cohort’s content creation is primarily to support friendships rather than create for creation sake. This also makes sense because teens who have more free time tend to have less restrictions and tend to prefer offline encounters with friends to online ones.

I wasn’t surprised by most of their findings, but one of them did make me raise my eyebrows: Teens from lower-income are more likely to blog. Because of how Pew collects data, it cannot answer the question “why?” when it finds such correlations, but I figured that my qualitative data might provide some insight and so I went back through my data. When asked about blogging, most of my MySpace-dominant users would immediately talk about the blogs that they kept on MySpace while my Facebook-dominant teens would talk about how Xanga was “so middle school” and that “everyone stopped” because “it just felt really weird writing about my day to people that I didn’t even care about.” And then it clicked. As I pointed out last summer and Eszter saw in her survey, the MySpace/Facebook split is correlated with socio-economic status. Because MySpace supports blogging and Facebook does not and because many of the teens who were once on Xanga are now using one of the SNSs, it makes sense that teens from lower-income households are more likely to blog now. They are blogging on MySpace. Now, that outta be interesting when these kids hit college where blogging is used as an educational tool.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

16 thoughts on “Pew on teen social media practices (with interesting bits on class)

  1. Cheryl Morgan

    I’m very comfortable with the idea that people who are active and involved online are mostly the same people who are likely to be active and involved offline. But I suspect that whether they will be active offline depends on what they are doing, or more specifically whether online activity is an adequate substitute for offline activity.

    My own expertise is with science fiction conventions, which people often claim are dying because of lack of young blood. Yet there are thousands of teens flocking to anime conventions. My guess is that if teens want to talk about Harry Potter (or the new Cory Doctorow novel) they understand that they can do so easily online, without having to go to conventions like their Asimov-reading parents did. But with anime the added dimension of costuming encourages them to meet in person so as to get a better look at each-other’s outfits.

  2. Lanette

    My dissertation back in 2005 was on girls who use LiveJournal (the abstract and PDF is on OhioLink ETD at if you’re interested) and I agree that the Pew finding that “teens from lower-income are more likely to blog” seems bizarre unless you take into account the MySpace/Facebook split. I also think that Facebook users are increasingly using the notes feature to point friends to their off-Facebook blogs. Blogging is addictive in a different way than Facebook or MySpace, and the increase I’ve noted (informally) of blog linking may speak to its longevity across economic groups. In other words, I think there is some significant stealth blogging going on.

  3. Kevin Guidry

    With respect to your last sentence, danah: Is academic blogging really becoming that popular among and for undergraduates? I am a bit out of my domain of expertise (I am interested primarily in traditional students’ non-curricular uses of communication and entertainment technologies) but I don’t think that blogging is becoming well-integrated into much of the undergraduate curriculum. I suspect that it’s a slightly difficult question to answer as those who are interested in asking the question are most likely those who are actively integrating the tool into their pedagogy, particularly those who teach communications- or writing-based classes.

  4. zephoria

    Kevin: new teachers are trying to be innovative and use it. I’m seeing it pop up more and more, particularly in humanities and media classes.

    Paul: no teen would recognize “Notes” as blogging. Thus, they would not answer that question as “yes”

  5. John Dodds

    I think this highlights the fact that difffernet social and age groups have different views as to what constitutes blogging. Ages ago I wrote a post about a panel hosted by Guy Kawasaki that featured a number of white middle class students – they were very active online, they all used MySpace or Facebook to organise their social life and none of them believed that they blogged.

  6. Alison Mac

    Facebook supports blogs???

    *goes back to look and finds it hidden away*

    Not exactly the primary purpose, though.

    The only friend I have using it is importing her Blogger blog. I see people linking within Facebook to blogs elsewhere, but not actually in Notes.

    I’m very curious as to what happens with Facebook next year. Right now it feels like a signposting service, or maybe a pub with very bright lights.

  7. David Brake

    I was going to say what Dodds says – I suspect that it may be that some or many of the early adopters who were bloggers continue to do more or less blog-y things through Facebook and the like but have dropped their (formally-defined) blogs as a result and no longer think they blog. On the other hand some low-income MySpace users who don’t use the blog features therein (or use them in non-‘bloggy’ ways) may have said they were bloggers anyway because they didn’t understand what a blog is (as Eszter’s research has found, there is quite a low level of understanding of key tech terms among both teens and adults).

    In fact what this is suggesting is that the notion of what blogging ‘is’ may be getting so blurry at the edges that it may no longer be a useful term for many.

  8. Melanie

    Forgive the length of my comment but, as a teacher, I disagree with some of the PEW conclusions:

    Having taught in inner city schools last year – both at risk and affluent, I can attest to some of the PEW findings. The students in the affluent schools were far more wired than those in the at risk communities simply because of access to technology – at home v. at school. Low income teens who do not have access to a computer at home – or have limited access – have even more limited access at school (in addition to snooping teachers and librarians). At most, they might be able to sneak into FB or Youtube for a few minutes to half hour depending on the presence of administrative staff. This is very, very different than being in your own room, at home (however stealth they may have to be – you can keep the windows open and minimized all evening while doing other tasks, like homework). This kind of temporal relationship is, properly, privilege.

    I question PEW’s LSES blogging results – as well as their sample focus. They’ve got to get beyond MySpace, Livejournal and look at the whole picture (like Blogger and WordPress). But they cant, because the data isn’t available in quite the same way as it is from Livejournal and other services. Users of blogger, WordPress, etc are much more likely to be stealthy about their real identities, age, gender, etc.

    Of the secondary schools where I had my teacher training last year, only a couple of students in the low income schools had blogs (and those students, unsurprisingly, came from the most high income families in that group). This is also true of my experience with low income college students – whose non-school hours are spent (largely) working.

    In my own (limited) experience, more affluent students were far more engaged in content creation (whether blogs or wall posts) because: A) they felt entitled to do so (to have an opinion and express it) and B) the literacies, references and raw knowledge base to create expressive and confident prose. Of my students in lower income schools, very few had the *multiple* literacies required to negotiate the web in a meaningful way (if you don’t have reference points or proper terminology/jargon you’ll have a lot of trouble finding things) – this is why they find research so frustrating and why they avoid it – to write well. This is not to say that low income students won’t do so at all – but that they do with far less frequency or length (a text message is not the same as a blog post). Blogging takes time. Time is privilege.

    I taught English (academic, applied and university streams) grades 9 – 12 in both socio-economic contexts. The levels of literacy, confidence and competence in both groups had *everything* to do with privilege. Privilege of prior knowledge and learnings, privilege to own your own copies of books (i.e., to have a small library of “favourite books” especially), privilege to have your own room or have acces to a *quiet* study space (and computer), privilege to return home and get support from literate, English speaking, computer and word processing savvy, university educated parents. Versus: returning home to get ready to go to another job, not having access to the one computer (or any computer), helping your parents who (especially in the case of newcomer families) with their learning, losing or misplacing school textbooks, not having appropriate supplies and resources – printers, paper, pens, dictionaries, liquid paper, etc.

    The academic abilities in both groups had a direct correlation to web habits. Again, the privilege to pay for internet access, mobile devices, computers, etc as well as the privilege of multiple literacies required to use these devices (from having the language and skill to negotiate the web to having the confidence and knowledge base to express your place in it).

    I disagree about Facebook’s “notes.” While providing a place to “post” information – is not the same as a blog (if you want to get into the core features associated with blogging proper).

  9. Izzy Neis

    Here’s a peanut gallery comment regarding “Teens from lower-income are more likely to blog” >

    Through working with tweens (managing community websites & research convos) I’ve spoken to use their blogs when they get home from school (latchkey; most parents would still be at work). Either they blog about topical things like tv shows (teen nick storylines) or celebs, and sometimes they vent about their friends. But they STARTED their blogs because a) they were bored, b) they were alone and didn’t have anyone to talk to, c) they started their blog as a result of another website/game/virtual world: sharing cheats, codes, etc. As they learned about the blogging system, they began opening a variety of blogs on various topics, and then as that got boring and hard to manage, would start to get cautious about their information & close down to one or two blogs.


  10. Paul Schreiber

    what, to a teen, constitutes blogging?

    obviously not the standard definition of chronologically ordered posts with titles and content. facebook notes also support comments and rss. i assume those are also irrelevant.

  11. marocharim


    pardon the long comment, but i think i may have an explanation to why teens from lower-income families blog more often.

    while income was not a focal point of my thesis on friendster (hoping you received your copy), online social networks, to me, are means of “revealing,” that it is a means for people to expose themselves (that sounded kind of funny) online when they couldn’t in real life. as such, because they are less “exposed” because they don’t have the kind of affluence that makes them stick out in “reality,” they do so online.

    i can’t help but to use my own country as an example. here in the philippines, internet rental service is rather cheap (at Php20 an hour, roughly 50 cents). computer rentals become a major source of recreation, and as such, a lot of venues in the internet become exploited, like blogging and social networking. when you have an extra twenty pesos to spare, you would head off to an internet shop and “friendster.” going back on my data, the majority of them accessed their sites within 24 hours at the data-gathering period. this is, to me, enough proof of the relative inexpensive-ness of internet rental.

    of course, i’m not saying that the baseline poor use computers (to invoke melanie’s comment, but extended to the filipino context of “poor”).

    blogs, to me, serve the purpose of “exposure:” not because you’re completely invisible from society, but because you compensate for certain inadequacies you have in reality. there arises a sort of initiative: to express angst, to talk about one’s self, to “make one’s self known.” although as you may already know, i have reservations about “selfhood.”

    besides, blogging becomes an emerging source of revenue. twitter has also emerged here as a form of communication, and social networking is experiencing a shift from friendster to multiply.

    anyway, i’m not really appreciative of the whole idea of correlations. i’m skeptical: it’s a single instance. i would rather corroborate my findings with key informant interviews and the difficulties of textual analysis (as i did with my thesis): the labor is all worth it. besides, here in my part of the world, data mining is still little-known (i cringe at the thought of doing everything manually, but i did it anyway).



  12. Sarapen

    You might be interested in this article, since it touches upon inadequate digital literacy skills by youths in the UK:

    Google Generation’ is a myth, says new research

    A new report, commissioned by JISC and the British Library, counters the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation’ – young people born or brought up in the Internet age – is the most adept at using the web. The report by the CIBER research team at University College London claims that, although young people demonstrate an ease and familiarity with computers, they rely on the most basic search tools and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to asses the information that they find on the web.

Comments are closed.